Originally a past participle of kemb, from Middle English kemben, from Old English cemban (to comb). Modern uses are back-formations from the negative unkempt. More at kemb.




  1. neat and tidy; especially used of hair
    • 1907, Barbara Baynton, Sally Krimmer; Alan Lawson, editors, Human Toll (Portable Australian Authors: Barbara Baynton), St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, published 1980, page 189:
      For a moment Boshy thought his senses were playing up with him, for there in the door entrance stood the identical girl - the same turkey-egg complexion, stubby nose, and her red hair only changed from unkempt to kempt.
    • 1994 July 25, Jack Winter, “How I met my wife”, in The New Yorker:
      Her hair was kempt, her clothing shevelled, and she moved in a gainly way.

Usage notesEdit

Less common than unkempt. Often used in compound well-kempt or phrase “well kempt”, which may be criticized as redundant; compare well-groomed, well-kept.